18 February 2020

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here? Only If We Listen To "Experts"

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"
Dante Alighieri, I
nferno, Canto III line 9

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." 

Some would deem that a fitting sign to hang in the concourse of Beijing Capital International Airport, given China's current Dante-esque state:
Keep in mind all of this has taken place in China within just the past three weeks, since the beginning of February.

Yet if China is truly on a descent into Dante's Inferno, it is not traveling alone. A veritable globalist caravan seems intent on making the journey with them.

China: A Country In Panic

Since the first quarantine of Wuhan was announced on Janaury 22, a single word sums up the Chinese response to COVID-19: Panic. When a story updates 6 times in a single day, as did the Wuhan quarantine, the case for sober, reasoned, deliberate judgement is simply not there to be made, particularly since a city of 11 million people was quarantined in response to a disease that, at the time, had a total of 481 confirmed cases world wide.

Panic is the only fitting adjective to use to describe the fact that, just a day later, China quarantined another city, Huanggang. This was in response to the number of cases climbing globally from 481 to 583--a rapid rise, to be sure, but not the near-apocalyptic level one would presume would be the case to justify placing some 20 million people in literal lockdown.

By February 7, the number of people under quarantine would exceed 400 million.

China might be forgiven a bit of panic, given that the number of COVID-19 cases by then exceeded 30,000, but the virtual incarceration of roughly one-fourth the country's population in response to a disease that infected the tiniest percentage of that number can hardly be described as a proportionate response.

WHO: An Organization In Chaos

If China has been in pure panic mode, the World Health Organization has been purely chaotic.

It took the WHO until January 30 to declare COVID-19 to be a "Global Public Health Emergency", despite having been informed of the existence of the disease on December 31, 2019, and despite China having elected by then to quarantine/incarcerate tens of millions of people, infected or not. A few days later, the WHO still could not decide if COVID-19 qualified as a "pandemic" (yes, it does).

During this same time frame, the WHO was effusive in its praise for China's handling of the disease.It praised China's quarantines despite opposing quarantines and travel restrictions when it first announced the existence of the new coronavirus disease.

One February 4, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had nothing but praise for China's "forceful measures" in response to the disease. A few days later, a senior WHO official described that same response as "reprehensible",

Small wonder that Ben Hunt of Epsilon Theory derided Dr. Tedros as "industrially necessary" and called for his removal as the head of WHO.

CDC: A Study In Organizational Anemia

If the World Health Organization has been chaotic, the US Centers For Disease Control have been merely insipid. While the CDC did belatedly issue a Health Advisory on January 8, its claim of "closely monitoring" the situation was a study in irony, given that both the alternative and legacy media were starting to provide close coverage of the outbreak, and especially given the John Hopkins Outbreak Observatory had posted its own advisory as early as January 2.

Since then, the CDC has been chiefly a source of incomplete and inaccurate information. Despite clear evidence debunking the official Beijing narrative that a Wuhan live animal market was the origin of the disease, as of this writing the CDC has not updated its summary information on the virus. They have ignored reporting indicating longer incubation periods past 14 days for the disease. They remain stubbornly silent about transmission vectors other than respiratory droplets, despite reporting supporting both airborne transmission and fecal-oral transmission.

While their mission during an epidemic might be to disseminate timely information and guidance about the disease, their communications thus far about COVID-19 fail to do so.

Nor have they put out any travel advisories to countries besides China where endemic transmission of COVID-19 is now documented. They nave no travel advisories for Singapore, Taiwan, or Japan, for example.

Calling their leadership during this disease outbreak "anemic" is being kind.

Japan: A Country Wanting To Count Only Japanese Cases

Japan as a country has taken the saving of face to an interesting extreme where COVID-19 is concerned. Despite the cruise ship Diamond Princess being kept in quarantine at Yokohama, as the case totals have increased Japan has persistently refused to acknowledge those cases in their official count of COVID-19 within Japan.

While there is some logic in breaking the Diamond Princess cases out separately, as news site BNO News finally did on February 17, to simply pretend as if the cases did not exist is a rather startling amount of bureaucratic indifference.

Indifference might be an apt description of how Japan implemented the quarantine of the ship. Not only did the quarantine protocols fail to prevent the spread of the disease on the ship, there have been reports of those protocols not being rigorously enforced.

While the cruise ship may ultimately provide valuable information about how COVID-19 spreads, turning the ship into an impromptu disease laboratory is an appalling notion.

These Are The "Experts"?

While it must be said that a great many health agencies and governments around the world have labored long and hard to contain this coronavirus within their respective borders, time and again we bear witness to the sheer indifference, idiocy, indolence, and incompetence of the "experts" to whom this task is delegated. 

We are told through the legacy media (itself a study in indolence and incompetence, having been steadfastly two steps behind the disease throughout this epidemic). 

We are informed by Mark Zuckerberg, and the other heads of the Big Tech social media platforms, that only the official pronouncements of these "experts" are to be heeded, with all other discussion and commentary written off as "misinformation". The WHO has been meeting with the heads of these companies in secret, probably to ensure that theirs is the only voice the people hear regarding coronavirus. Both the social media firms and the WHO ignore the perverse irony of the fact that, at the present time, the two greatest sources of inaccurate and incomplete information about the disease are China on the one hand and the WHO/CDC on the other.

Yet these are our "experts". These are the ones who claim to be especially educated, trained, and informed. There are the people pretending to know what to do in a crisis such as this. 

These are the people who blithely ignore the constant stream of data that suggest their "expertise" is somewhere between worthless and downright harmful.

With "experts" like these, I would sooner trust random people on the street.

There Are No "Experts"

The COVID-19 pandemic is merely the latest example of a reality few want to contemplate: there are no true "experts" in anything. A quick survey of the significant events and crises in recent decades, from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to the SARS outbreak in 2003 to the subprime mortage crises and subsequent global financial crisis of 2008, to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, time and again one can point to the actions of "experts" as being a catalyzing force if not a primary cause. Time and again, the "experts" have led us down the rabbit hole.

Yet we live in a culture that elevates the expert almost to the level of the "philosopher-kings" much lauded in Plato's immortal dialogue "The Republic". A 2016 survey by YouGov in the UK found that people would prefer to trust "experts" over even trusted family members.

The problem we encounter with that desire is knowing whose expertise we should trust, whose counsel is wise, whose guidance is fitting. Psychologist Friederike Hendriks expressed this challenge as one of "epistemic trustworthiness" in her 2015 study on how lay people evaluate experts (pausing here to acknowledge the irony of citing an expert in a jeremiad against experts)--and by coining that term Dr. Hendriks demonstrates the problem we have with today's "experts"--too much use of jargon and not enough use of common sense.

The abstract to Dr. Hendriks' study showcases this problem all too well.
Given their lack of background knowledge, laypeople require expert help when dealing with scientific information. To decide whose help is dependable, laypeople must judge an expert’s epistemic trustworthiness in terms of competence, adherence to scientific standards, and good intentions. Online, this may be difficult due to the often limited and sometimes unreliable source information available. To measure laypeople’s evaluations of experts (encountered online), we constructed an inventory to assess epistemic trustworthiness on the dimensions expertise, integrity, and benevolence. Exploratory (n = 237) and confirmatory factor analyses (n = 345) showed that the Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI) is composed of these three factors. A subsequent experimental study (n = 137) showed that all three dimensions of the METI are sensitive to variation in source characteristics. We propose using this inventory to measure assignments of epistemic trustworthiness, that is, all judgments laypeople make when deciding whether to place epistemic trust in–and defer to–an expert in order to solve a scientific informational problem that is beyond their understanding.
In a 2016 essay in the British newspaper The Independent, Dr. Julia Shaw summarized Hendricks' dense paragraph as follows:
The authors argue that for an expert to be high on epistemic trustworthiness they need three characteristics: expertise, integrity and benevolence. In other words, knowing stuff isn’t enough. For us to rate a person as a trustworthy expert they need to know their information, to be honest and to be good-hearted.
Dr. Shaw goes on to point out that, for all our veneration of experts, far too many of them are neither honest nor good-hearted, irrespective of how much knowledge they posses. They have agendas--both hidden and published--and are quite willing to bend facts and shade the truth to advance those agendas. 

Today's experts come with baggage and conflicts of interest rarely fully disclosed. The WHO, and its model of "health diplomacy", presents an excellent example of this:
Interposed into the midst of all this has been the WHO – and Tedros – a relationship complicated by the fact that China is a major donor to the world health body. The mix of health and international politics has been underlined by the exclusion of Taiwan from discussions even after the coronavirus spread there.
Even if we assume Dr. Tedros has relevant knowledge and information, the fact that he is beholden in large measure to China for the funding of the WHO calls into question both his honesty and his good-heartedness. (Note, given some of the execrably absurd and false statements Dr. Tedros has made, I am not entirely persuaded of his knowledge, either). Tedros' seemingly sycophantic doublespeak--praising China's draconian quarantines while criticizing the far more mild restrictions employed by other countries--is merely making explicit his inherent conflicts of interest and overall untrustworthiness.

Dr. Tedros is not alone in his lack of trustworthiness. China's mendacity is amply documented even in the immediate coronavirus crisis. Politics and pursestrings can be seen to be influencing almost if not all of the "official" voices speaking out at this time.

Thus we are left with this simple conclusion: We have no "experts". We have no one who comes to the table with perfectly clean hands and a perfectly clear conscience, regardless of their level of technical knowledge or acumen. We have no one who can be trusted absolutely to give us advice we can trust on its face.

We have no one who can be trusted to be an expert, and so it is inevitable that when we do give such blind trust to anyone, the outcome is almost assuredly going to be unpleasant.

If we want to avoid China's descent into Dante's Inferno, the best step to take is to stop listening to "experts". Evaluate all that is said, cross check that with multiple independent sources to establish accuracy and integrity, and decide independently what actions to take.

As I have said more than once: Trust nothing. Verify everything.

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